Supplementing eMusic with other services

In my previous post I lamented the demise of eMusic as I’ve known it, and in preparation for the future discussed my jobs to be done related to discovering and listening to music:

  1. Casual listening to familiar music at my computer.
  2. Casual listening to familiar music when I’m offline.
  3. More focused listening to a) familiar and b) less familiar music while driving.
  4. Auditioning music for inclusion in my core collection.

Here’s how my jobs to be done match up with various digital music products and services being offered today:

  • Since I listen to my core collection of music both online (job 1) and offline (job 2), downloaded MP3 files (or other download formats playable on an iPod or iPhone, such as AAC or FLAC) are the best choice for jobs 1 and 2. They also satisfy job 3a, that part of job 3 that involves listening to familiar music.
  • Either satellite radio stations or Internet radio stations (i.e., using the iPhone to connect over 3G) will work to satisfy my need for novelty in listening while driving (job 3b). (Terrestrial radio stations are useless given my taste for non-mainstream music.) For my purposes I don’t care if the stations are human-curated, or auto-generated based on either genre (like Slacker) or similarity to a particular artist (like Pandora). Note that while driving I can’t afford to distract myself by frequently fiddling with controls, so Internet radio features like song rating or skip-ahead are overkill from my point of view. (In Christensen’s terms they overshoot customer needs, at least in my case.)
  • Auditioning music for my collection (job 4) requires listening to whole tracks (not 30-second samples) and ideally being able to listen to a whole album all the way through without being interrupted by ads or having to explicitly hit the play button again. Since I normally audition music while I’m using my laptop and I’m online, job 4 can be done by an on-demand streaming subscription service like Napster or Rhapsody that is ad-free and can play whole albums with a single click. If I don’t mind occasional ads I could also use a free ad-supported service like Imeem (which also supports whole album plays).

Under my previous eMusic plan I didn’t worry too much about downloading things I might not like. With 40 tracks I could download the equivalent of three or four albums per month, and it was OK if some turned out to be clunkers. I don’t have time to listen to all that much music, and can’t readily absorb more than one or two albums per month into my core collection of things I listen to frequently.

Unfortunately eMusic’s new higher prices discourage this sort of experimentation (as many current eMusic subscribers have commented). In order to maintain a roughly comparable monthly expenditure on digital music I’d have to switch to an eMusic Basic Annual plan (at about $10.83 per month for 24 tracks) or an eMusic Lite plan ($6.49 per month for 12 tracks). With only 12 or 24 tracks per month I feel more pressure to make sure that every downloaded album is one I’ll want to listen to more than once.

In the short run I’m looking at the following possibilities, in order of increasing cost:

  • Subscribe to the eMusic Lite plan and then use Imeem or a similar ad-supported on-demand streaming service to audition candidate albums for possible downloading via eMusic. Total cost: $6.49 per month for 12 downloaded tracks, or $0.54 per track.
  • Subscribe to the eMusic Basic Annual plan ($129.99 per year for 24 tracks per month) and supplement it with Imeem as discussed above. Again I would have to listen to Imeem ads while I’m auditioning an album, and would also be locked in to my eMusic plan for a whole year. Total cost: $10.83 per month for 24 downloaded tracks, or $0.45 per track.
  • Do a combination of the eMusic Lite plan and a paid Napster subscription for on-demand streaming; for $5 extra per month this eliminates ads and gives me an additional 5 MP3 tracks a month. Total cost: $11.49 per month for 17 downloaded tracks, or $0.68 per track (averaging across the two services).
  • Do a combination of the eMusic Basic Annual plan and a paid Napster subscription. Total cost: $15.83 per month for 29 downloaded tracks, or $0.55 per track (averaging across the two services).

For any of these strategies I can add access to Internet radio stations to address job 3b, listening to new and unknown music while driving. There are a number of choices here, including the iPhone apps for Imeem, Last.fm, Pandora, Slacker, and others. Of these Slacker probably meets my needs best, since it features easy access to genre-based stations—this gives me a bit more novelty than basing a station on a particular artist. I may also continue listening to satellite radio in the car, since it’s more convenient than hooking the iPhone up to the auxiliary input port and a car charger.

(Note that at this time there does not appear to be any service offering on-demand streaming to the iPhone. I’m guessing that this is due to Apple and/or AT&T blocking such access. This is not a major problem from my point of view, but it is yet another annoying aspect of today’s music industry.)

In the end I’ll likely go with the combination of an eMusic Basic Annual plan for downloads, Imeem for on-demand streaming, and Slacker for Internet radio. This should take care of me for the near-term, assuming that Imeem, Slacker, and other music services are able to continue in business offering free services. We may also see Spotify in the US at some point, which would provide another option.

However I can’t help thinking that this is much more complicated than it needs to be. It would be great to be able to hire one service to do all of my musical jobs to be done, at a price that’s reasonable. Would such a service be possible? What would it look like? What would it cost? These are questions I’ll address in my next post.

3 thoughts on “Supplementing eMusic with other services

  1. David Brady

    Didn’t realize this was your blog until just a moment ago. I was the Tandem/Altsig founder way back in the day. (Everytime I play MBV, I think of our conversations about the band…) Still way into music – most of it supplied by eMusic for the last 6 years.

    My eMusic track count is just short of 10000 today. I’m looking through my iTunes play count for the tracks and it is clear that I’m not investing quality time in the music. (And that’s not including the 25000+ tracks from my CD collection…)

    I’m seriously considering taking a collecting hiatus, and swapping my gathering time for enjoying the collection I’ve already accumulated.

    Have you considered, perhaps, 6 months of devoted listening to your collection? Rediscover the music you already have? That might be the simplest thing of all…

  2. hecker

    It’s great to hear from you after all these years. The Altsig list was my introduction to online discussions about music; thanks again for starting it!

    In response to your point, I actually do a lot of re-listening to stuff I’ve downloaded in the past. That’s one reason I went for a 40-track-per-month plan a couple of years ago when I could have gotten a higher-end plan at grandfathered prices. However I do have an ongoing desire to hear at least some new music, which is why I’m thinking of continuing at least on a 12- or 24-track per month plan.

  3. J.H.M.

    Hello, there… I found your blog recently, and I’m quite happy about that. It has been very informative. Personally, until recently, I was on the Connoisseur Plan, and exceedingly content. The recent change has really put a damper on many of my downloading plans, as I tend to buy long experimental albums with few tracks, originally amazingly cheap on eMusic, but now variably expensive. One slight perk is that they’re adding a free month or something to my account, whilst docking 78¢ from my monthly Premium Plan; Plus, several of the artists I like remain a bargain (I can still get Merzbow’s “Age of 369/Chant 2” for under four bucks, which is a somewhat hard-to-find 2-CD). Nonetheless, annoying as hell. Despite the clichés here… Fight the power!

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